Sexual abuse, rape, assault – these are crimes of power. Dustin Hoffman would not have said “I’ll have a hard-boiled egg … and a soft-boiled cl*toris.” to an intern if he did not think he could get away with it. Worse yet, it probably wasn’t even thought out – simply a reflex given his position. That this was done in front of an entourage, and of course they all laughed hysterically only adds to the abuse.
One of the worst #metoo experiences I have is about a man who simply used the most disgusting descriptions of sexual acts as he tugged and pulled on a bottle of wine that he was trying to uncork at a company function. Some of our coworkers were no more than ten feet away. In a low voice he questioned what I might like to do or experience in terms of his struggle with the wine bottle using the most vile and explicit language. Honestly, I was in one of the most senior management positions, higher than this man, but I was so shocked that I stood stock still. I do not think a single muscle moved in my body. Did I breathe? I don’t think I did that either. Honestly, I felt terrified although I knew then, as I knew now that this man would never lay a hand on me. Yet this language and these descriptions of what he imagined I might enjoy threw me. And as suddenly as it started, it was over. The wine was corked, he stood up (he had been a little hunched over) and smiled and walked away. I wanted to faint.
One of my first thoughts was “did I hear him correctly?” Of course, the reflex of many women is self-recrimination and blame. “Was I wrong?” was a nearly unconscious reaction. I turned to look at the rest of the room, people were filling up the place after an event. I felt as if I were out of time or in a dream sequence. On one side of the room I saw one of my employees, a woman. She was pretty wild and had had a lot to drink; I remember that I worried she would do something foolish. (She did… that is another story, file under #himtoo. It happens.) Anyway, I could not deal with any of it, so I quietly left and was about to walk back to my room. A friend came along and asked why I was leaving, so I told her. She couldn’t believe it but neither she – nor I – would have thought about reporting it.
The man was someone I had known for about 16 years give or take. He was not someone I would have imagined would do such a thing. He was drunk, and that was not entirely unusual for him or others at this function. It seemed to me that I sort of knew he was having some marital issues, but maybe that’s just because I now know that in reverse. But you see, in some way I was trying to get him off the hook.
Well a funny thing happened on the way to the HR department. As I noted, there was a #himtoo story having to do with my female employee and I was working with my HR person on that. She was a great employee, but also drank a lot and she was a very wild child in those days. We’ve lost touch, but I think she calmed down. Anyway, as I was casually speaking to the HR person, who was a friend, I mentioned what had happened to me that same night.
Well, guess what? She was kind of a mandated reporter. Just knowing about it casually meant she had to investigate it. I was horrified – and ashamed. One, I started to wonder if I had misheard him. Two, I felt ashamed because I just felt ashamed. Three, I did not want this to become a thing. (And we wonder why rapes are not reported?) Too late – things were going down.
Let us just say that of all the possible endings, it worked out well instead of truly awful. I can say this, I was in receipt of what I believe was an almost immediate and sincere apology from the other end. No serious actions were taken, and frankly, I think he was shaken to his bones over this. I did mention to him that he was a manager of young women and that he needed to be aware of his actions. Today I’m pretty glad I actually said that, regardless of how it might have turned out. I have no idea where he is today and while I do not wish ill upon him, I do not need to know.
Most of the stories do not turn out this way. Most of the stories leave us feeling angry, ashamed, or worse. I still have a number of those. But you know what, if nothing else, #metoo reminds me it is actually #ustoo. None of us are alone in this. And the fact that it is pouring out like water overflowing a dam is a good thing.
Expect more stories, don’t be surprised. It is not an excuse but the entire machine was set up this way. That goes a short distance to explain what most men should have known better about, but who consciously chose otherwise.
Here is a song to remind all of us who have been indeed – silent all these years. It makes me feel strong, but I also cry every time I hear it.